BY EZRA JUSTIN LEE
Dad tells me it’s just what I need. And I am not in the right mind to make my own decisions. I fell hard in love, or the closest thing I’ve felt to it, for a Juliet when my name wasn’t even Romeo. And knowing this, I still tried to change the title of a story that had had futility written all over it—even from the beginning of my pursuit.
I have just professed my love to a girl who laughs at me when I say, “I like you,” and explains away why I actually don’t when I tell her again that I do. In response to this trauma of failure and break of heart, I decide to anesthetize the pain with an adventure. Adventure is the perfect drug for these cases. Fun, affordable at times, mind- and time-consuming, and—for the most part—it can be legal. Dad’s right. Adventure it is. The perfect medicine.
I like the Metro. You pay $5 for an all-day pass. You then can use it for unlimited rides for the whole day on any Metro bus or rail in the Los Angeles area. Everyone rides the Metro. Poor people. Business people. White people. Black People. Nice people. Dirty people. Drunk people. Pretty people. You get a little bit of everything. It’s a beautiful concept—the Metro brings together all these different types of people into the same place to take them to different places. The Metro is real. It’s nitty-gritty. It’s a taste of the real that we aloof folk should try. And most of the middle-class brats I know flinch when I mention it, because they all have their own shiny cars.
I live in Orange County. The place is dressed up in concrete, fast food chains galore, and artificially placed flora. It’s simply miles and miles of clean-cut, well-dressed, man-made suburbia. I need to get out of here. So for my adventure I choose to ride the Metro to L.A. I’m not going to any venue in particular—just L.A. And after a moment or two of some thinking, I come up with a goal for my adventure. I should meet some random people on the trains and buses. And write stories about them.
And to be honest, I initially gravitated towards this idea of random meetings; I thought it would be a practical means of encountering strangers in attempts to getting to know them during the three to fourteen minutes we spend on the public transport. I would have them spill their guts out to me about their interesting or boring lives.
And I would write. Eventually I would write this amazing article about them. And in the midst of all this I would talk to them about Jesus and tell them how Jesus is good for them and how they should believe and go to heaven. They would love me. I’m very likable. And then they would convert to Christianity, obviously because they would want to be like me. I would leave with great information about random people so I could write this article and, in addition, have converted them to salvation. One badge of self-righteousness. Coming right up.
Journalists wear suits. That’s what Dad says. So I wear my newest suit to the Metro. I’m ready. It’s Jesus time.
The very second I get on the train I know the suit is the “wrongest” thing to wear. I mistakenly thought that if I dressed like a reporter maybe I would magically become one. Well, magic isn’t real. I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. My suit said to all the ragged, t-shirted, or plainly dressed passengers that I was pretentious and had somewhere more important to be than with them. I was Forrest Gump, and no one wanted to sit next to me. Not even Jenny. I realize now that real reporters are supposed to wear the clothes of the regulars. I didn’t do that.
I can’t find my guts. I haven’t courage enough to talk to strangers as I have planned. I sit and watch. It reminds me of the time I went to the zoo. Except this time the animals are people. While sitting there, I come to a startling point that hits me like a brick to the face: People aren’t agendas. They aren’t just animals that I can walk up to and expect to open up to me. They’re not.
And they’re not just article topics I can write on so that I become famous. They’re not targets for me to choose to convert to Christianity. Their names start with capitals. They’re proper nouns. Not some regular noun like pig, rock, or tooth.
So I meet no one new. To keep my mind off failure, I call up my college roommate, Samuel, for dinner. Samuel and I have been trying to go to El Parian, the famed taco joint with supposedly the best carne asada in L.A. We get there soon and knock on a “CERRADO/CLOSED” sign in hopes that this night doesn’t end in failure of every kind. Love. Meeting people on the Metro. And now, food too. We walk away disheartened. We see a pupuseria. Pupusas, man? Yeah, sure, whatever.
This was my first time eating pupusas, corn-based pancakes with interesting and different fillings. When the food arrives, my eyes widen, and my failures shrink. Samuel and I have the best conversation we’ve had in months: we say nothing. We just eat.
The day is over. I’m home, my mission over. I count all the strangers I met that day. Zero.
All the people I turned to Christ. Zero.
Then I realize that sometimes a mission failed is not really failure. It’s not even a mission. Because love is neither a mission nor an agenda. It’s a meal. You have to eat it everyday. And just give to those who are hungry, regardless of the returns.